• Her own experience was a wake-up call to save the lives of girls in Taita Taveta county
“I may not win this war today, but that does not mean I stop fighting. My little contribution is speaking out against Female Genital Mutilation,” says Maria Nareku an anti-FGM activist in Taita Taveta county.
“The cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment violates the rights of women and girls and robs their right to life when the procedure results in death.”
And whether the community listens or not, the most important thing for Nareku is not to be silenced. “I will keep talking, doing, mobilising and pushing against FGM until my community stops it.”
Nareku’s unrelenting spirit is inspired by her own experience. She underwent the cut when she was barely 10 years old and had to grapple with complications at childbirth.
“In 2008, I almost lost my life as I delivered my second baby. This experience marked the turning point in my life. I decided to break the silence and since then, I have continued to speak out against FGM in the community.”
Renowned for her slogan ‘Kinembe Kilindwe’, a Swahili word meaning let us preserve the clitoris, the FGM crusader has been instrumental in creating awareness in the community on the negative effects of FGM.
Nareku has been able to rally a group of women and together, they have formed the Mbuyuni Women’s Group. It has been on the frontline, helping to restore dignity to survivors of FGM by providing platforms for women to fulfil their dreams.
In 2008, I almost lost my life as I delivered my second baby. This experience marked the turning point in my life. I decided to break the silence and since then, I have spoken out against FGMMaria Nareku
With support from the United Nations Population Fund, the group targets gatherings to challenge young women to shed the age-old retrogressive practice.
The group also takes advantage of public barazas and media platforms to relay information on the magnitude of this act.
“We target women and girls at risk and also those who have already undergone the cut. Our messages address mainly the health and medical consequences, legal, social and cultural aspects,” Nareku says.
The group provides counselling and emotional support to restore the worth that has been shattered in affected women and girls.
“We also target community elders separately from the women and girls to sensitise them on the risks and consequences associated with FGM.”
The Javungo Council of Elders has also been roped in to the campaign. The chair, Ronald Mwashaka, says elders in the area have become ardent advocates for the abandonment of FGM.
“We have been engaging men in conversations about the practice and challenging them at social gatherings to think critically about the issue,” he says.
The situation, however, remains dire. Currently, there are no proper measures in place to spearhead the campaign against FGM at the county level, Nareku says.
“If strategies are well done and the community involved in planning, then the new cases we are registering now will go down,” she says.
Nareku underscores the need to strengthen the anti-FGM working groups in the county to accelerate efforts to end FGM by 2022 as directed by the President.
The FGM prevalence rate in Taita Taveta currently stands at 22.3 per cent, which is higher than the National FGM prevalence rate of 21 per cent.
However, data from the Gender ministry indicates the FGM prevalence in the county is currently higher than this figure and projects it at over 60 per cent.
While the efforts to fight the vice have been consistent and gains made, 50 per cent of mothers visiting health facilities had undergone FGM.
Further statistics indicate that 61.3 per cent of infants under the age of five years have been subjected to FGM. In addition, 22 per cent of children aged five to nine years and 11.1 per cent of children aged 10-14 years have been subjected to the cut.
But all is not lost. Gender CAS Rachel Shebesh has issued a directive to monitor FGM.
“All infants visiting heath facilities in the county must be subjected to health checks to establish if they have undergone the cut,” she said.
Shebesh spoke during a recent tour of Kimala, Mata and Bura Ndogo villages, which have been listed as hotspots.
The tour was pursuant to revelations by leaders that perpetrators had changed tack and were now targeting infants, a trend that had resulted in countless deaths and contributed to the rising prevalence rate.
The CAS was emphatic that parents of the affected children will face the full force of the law. Further, chiefs and their assistants will not be spared in the ongoing crackdown to stem the practice.
The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 criminalises all forms of FGM performed on anyone, regardless of age or status.
This includes training to become an FGM practitioner, causing death as a result of performing FGM, aiding and abetting FGM, procuring of a person to perform FGM in another country, use of premises to perform FGM and possession of tools or equipment for purposes connected to performing FGM.
Upon conviction, these offences attract imprisonment for a minimum term of three years or a fine of not less than Sh200,000 or both.
Further, the Children’s Act 2001 criminalises subjecting a child to harmful cultural practices.
The Penal Code, Chapter 63, also provides offences under which the circumcisers can be charged. The Protection against Domestic Violence Act 2015 classifies FGM as violence. The Act provides for protective measures for survivors and victims of domestic violence, including FGM.
In addition, advocacy for abandonment of FGM has received continued support from high government officials, such as the President and the First Lady.
Measures taken include establishment of an Anti-FGM Unit to streamline the prosecutorial management of FGM cases and an FGM and child marriage hotline to facilitate the reporting of cases for timely intervention.
But despite the gains, there is no end in sight. Kenya still continues to grapple with high prevalence rates in counties bordering Somali, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Edited by T Jalio